Did you feel the earth tremble this week? Perhaps you did, and we know why. What you felt was the jolt of ZUG.com, the world’s greatest comedy website since 1995, finally closing its online doors on April 1st. This time, there was no fooling.
I was one of Zug’s main contributors of comedy content since 2011, and I had the great honor of serving as the site’s managing editor over the past year. I learned what it takes to run a high profile website, how to manage a stable of writers, and the art of feeding the beast that is creative comedy. Perhaps you can glean a smidgen of wisdom from the lessons I learned.
Creative Wit Can Hatch from the Driest Eggs
Pretty bizarre subheading there, huh? What I mean by that is no matter what your company specializes in, an injection of fresh and funny is always possible. This is one of our trademarks at Media Shower, and it applied to ZUG as well. When an office furniture store was looking for content that would get them some attention, I challenged myself to see if one of their ergonomic office chairs could keep me comfortable—no matter what. That meant sitting in the chair in traffic, in front of an adult toy store, and even in the ocean. We took a mundane topic, office chairs, and turned it into a hysterical piece of viral comedy. This technique can be used by any business at any time, with only some slight adjustments being made for tone and subject matter.
The Permission-Forgiveness Ratio
Perhaps it’s because ZUG was the number one source for pranks for 18 years, but we never really learned how to ask for permission before pulling off a stunt. Whether it was sneaking into the Super Bowl for the infamous halftime Prince prank or simply doing stand-up comedy inside a Walgreens, we learned early on that asking the powers that be for permission to do stupid stuff in their presence was just not gonna work. It also would drain the comedic value out of whatever we were doing. The element of surprise can’t be overestimated when planning to make a big splash.
“Comedy Deadline” is Not an Oxymoron
Deadlines are a part of every job. Whether you’re a doctor due in surgery or a hot dog vendor who needs to peddle his cylindrical meats during the lunch rush, we all face them. But one of the toughest tasks one can face is asking a comedy writer to get their article in on time. For some reason, when a guy’s writing a 1,000 word piece on how he drank a gallon of Shamrock Shake, he seems to think the deadline is looser than my grandmother’s arm skin—not so. Establishing respect for your deadlines is vital. I personally recommend using a Taser.
Back Pats Work
Positive reinforcement is important at any workplace, but when someone summons up a sizable amount of creative energy for a project, it’s even more vital. With my boss, John Hargrave, leading by example, I learned this lesson once again. I’d ask a writer to hit my funny bone with their best shot, and then I’d tell them whether or not they succeeded. That wasn’t easy to do, especially when their piece had fewer chuckles per paragraph than the Gettysburg Address.
I found that having that a review discussion in an upbeat tone — making sure to point out the areas in which they excelled — did wonders for upgrading their future work. Hearing “You’re really close” always prompts more passion to improve than the alternative: “I hate you and everything you’ve ever done.”
Perhaps the biggest thing I learned during my time with ZUG was how rewarding a job can be when it involves doing something you truly love. Just keep in mind that if what you truly love is writing articles about stealing shrimp from Red Lobster, your job security may not equal that of say, an accountant.
Of course plenty was learned during ZUG’s 18-year reign, like how kids react when they receive household junk instead of candy on Halloween, but I’ll let the man who started it all elaborate further on that in a future post.